Sunday, July 14, 2013

Why Bordeaux? Check out the Plensa, for a Start. . .

Our Paris friend wondered what it was that we liked about Bordeaux. Many things, we answered, particularly the riverfront promenade, the central square in front of the Opera house, the friendliness of its inhabitants, particularly noticeable in their willingness to patiently chat with us in French, the Public Gardens near our rental home, the various markets, the 7 Euro oysters Formule -- half a dozen oysters on the half shell with plentiful good bread and butter and a glass of white wine, for seven Euros, an astonishing bargain that makes a satisfying light lunch.
And then, in the last few days of our visit there this year (our 3rd visit in 3 years, the 1st occasioned by an invitation from fellow (very) occasional blogger, Lesley at Peregrinations, now a friend, I'm lucky to say), we began to see these sculptures appear all over the city.
We were delighted to recognize the style of the sculpture as that of a sculpture that lived a few blocks from us in Vancouver, courtesy of the Vancouver Biennale, although it has sadly departed now. Like this one, "our" Vancouver sculpture had an opening large enough for admirers to walk inside. In fact, my post about it features me sitting on a bench-like indentation inside it.

And sure enough, we soon began to see posters proclaiming a Bordeaux exposition of the work of Catalan sculptor Jaume Plensa
The exposition runs from June 27th through the end of September 2013, so we were very fortunate to get a preview before we left on the 26th. I suspect these surrounding rails may have come down by now -- perhaps someone who's been lucky enough to visit recently will let me know. Lesley?
Photographs can hardly convey the majesty and beauty and tranquility of this bronze head -- Plensa's website features a photo of a similar sculpture on the beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil that better conveys this impression, but believe me, against the energy of the crowds in this favourite square, this silent woman, her eyes closed in contemplation, is a powerful invitation to calm and to marvel.

In another, smaller square, this sculpture engages its surroundings with a different energy . . .
You want to get close enough to read the words stenciled out of its metal ribbons

And you can't help but notice, as you walk around and view its interplay with public space from all possible angles, that it continues a riffing in metal decoration that began centuries and centuries ago. . . a tip of the hat, I see here, to earlier artisans. . .
Here's another, playing with the same materials, showing the inexhaustible possibilities within a set of clear parameters. I think, somehow, of a sonnet, of any form poetry, really . . . .

And then Plensa switches it up, using the seated, knees-up posture of the openwork metal sculptures, maintaining the use of alphabet letters, but this time using a closed-form, human-scaled, solid metal approach. Or almost, that is, because he breaks up the solidity with a central cavity that embraces, rather astonishingly, a young tree.
And as the curious admirer draws closer, we see that the letters are organized into the names of artists from various disciplines. . . you can probably pick out Claude Debussy's name here

Of course, what is really wonderful about these sculptures, about all the Plensa sculptures placed around Bordeaux, is the way they interrupt public space to invite interaction or simply to give aesthetic pleasure to everyday life.  Here, young children are guided by teachers and/or parents, to wander among the seven statues that are part of this installation in the Jardin Public.
And below, a certain Canadian visitor (hello, Pater!) admires one of the seven while other visitors mirror my camera play. . .

If you're within striking distance of Bordeaux over the next 2 1/2 months, I'd recommend a visit, and not just for these fabulous sculptures (I've featured less than half of them here -- do check out Plensa's website). Although you might want to wait for the city to cool down a bit . . . while it poured rain on us regularly during our visit, it's boasting 36 Celsius degrees of sunshine these days!

Whether you manage to get to Bordeaux or not, though, I'm curious: do you have any favourite public art in your own city? Or in a city near you? Have you ever traveled deliberately to see an installation of public art as, for example, featured in this Bordeaux exposition or perhaps one of the Biennale projects? I'm thinking primarily of contemporary public art, quite honestly, because I think it's important for us to add continually to the rich resources of older public art that we sometimes find easier to appreciate. But if you just can't get with the new stuff, what public art gets you excited? I'm really looking forward to your comments!

*For those of you who would like to know more about Jaume Plensa and his work, there's a great interview with him by Barbara Sansome in the online journal Digimag's September 2010 issue.


  1. Wonderful sculptures! I love the play of words and shapes and space. Bordeaux sounds wonderful and is on our ever-growing list of places we'd like to visit.

  2. I think you'd enjoy it, Sue, although it's quite different from Paris. There are so many fabulous daytrips possible from the city, and it boasts its own many attractions as well.

  3. Yes, Frances, I can confirm that the barriers have come down. It's lovely to see people walk around and inside these sculptures, really enjoying them and examining them from all sides. I still haven't seen those in the Jardin Public and it's still a bit too hot to treck across town so they may have to wait until September.

    1. I'm glad to hear the barriers have gone -- I read an interview with Plensa and he says it's important to him that sculptures be touched, caressed actually.
      Happy to hear you've got some sunshine now, but I wouldn't be doing any trekking either in those temps! Stay cool!

  4. I love art that uses words and letters. The sculptures are fascinating - it would be fun to decipher the words Plensa used.
    Some of the modern sculpture here appeals to me - the flight of the purple martin on the Selkirk waterway has whimsy and airy lines that I like. I also like the sculpture inside the airport, and the slightly cheesy metal flowers outside the terminal building make me smile.

    1. I should have paused longer in front of that 3rd sculpture to transcribe some of the words for my readers. . .
      I don't know any of the Victoria sculpture you refer to, which makes me think it's time for a visit and a wander. . .

  5. The contrast of such modern sculptures with the very traditional buildings of a previous time and natural green space is thought provoking. The sculptures almost seem to be taking advantage of a temporary truce in a foreign space. Fun and interesting!


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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